Campaign round up: punching above our weight in 2019
Monday 23rd December 2019
Our Head of Campaigns, Una Summerson, outlines how this year more families than ever before have got involved with our campaigns and helped us raise awareness in the media.
Thanks to your support we have been a force for change in a difficult funding and political climate and will continue to do so in 2020.
This year we have campaigned on Carer's Allowance, short breaks, school transport, Universal Credit and school funding. Families have themselves been a force for change, taking to the streets in protest against cuts, and more and more families are using the courts to fight against unfairness or to secure what they are entitled too.
Here's some of the highlights.
To mark the start of our 40th anniversary year, we launched nominations for our Awards to celebrate the countless and often unrecognised achievements of families with disabled children across the UK.
It seemed right that during our 40th year, we shine a spotlight on the many positives that come with being a family with a disabled child and on the wonderful parent carer community with which we stand and work together.
We had 500 nominations, the finalists and winners were invited to a special event in Parliament. You can read about all the finalists in our Together At 40 Awards booklet or read about some of the winners in this Sun newspaper article.
Over the summer we saw parents take to the streets to call for better support for disabled children, and saw three families take the government to court over lack of funding for SEN support in schools in England. One of the highlights of the year has been to see grassroots campaign groups such as SEND Action and SEND crisis develop into a real force for change.
Charities that make up the Disabled Children's Partnership, which is led by our CEO Amanda Batten, also launched a powerful new campaign in partnership with the Sun newspaper. The Give It Back campaign calls on the government to give back the £434 million of support owned to disabled children. At the heart of the campaign were families like Vickey and her son Ollie who has a rare genetic condition. Her letter to the Chancellor was signed by more 21,500 supporters and published in the paper.
In response to pressure from families and charities the government announced £700m for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. They also have initiated an SEND Review overseen by a programme board including No.10, HM Treasury, DHSC and DfE. The Review will lead to a new vision for SEN and Disability, followed by new statutory guidance. We have been influencing this review and will continue to ensure parents have a strong voice in 2020.
As a result of Contact's instrumental inquiry, the Department for Education finally launched a consultation on the revised statutory home to school transport guidance. While legislation on home to school transport has not changed, we hope the revised guidance, which we worked closely with the Department on, will better support local authorities in meeting their statutory duties.
This year we continued to campaign on the school transport loophole for under 5s and post-16. You can hear me talk about the issue on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme.
In October, a group of cross-party MPs publish a critical report into SEND reforms in England after an 18 month Inquiry. They heard from more than 70 witnesses and received more than 700 submissions, including evidence based on calls to our helpline and the experiences of the thousands of parents involved with their local parent carer forums.
The report concluded that despite good intentions, any parents face a titanic struggle just to try to ensure their child gets access to the right support. Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system that breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision.
Throughout the year we continue to raise awareness of the impact of Universal Credit on families we disabled children. Most stand to lose more than £1,800 per year, and the rules that restrict disabled young people who are treated as 'receiving education' from being able to claim Universal Credit. We have produced a Universal Credit briefing [PDF] that explains the issues in more detail.
We also kept up our campaign on Carer's Allowance by calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to align the earnings threshold with the National Living Wage so carers don't lose out. We also called on the Department to drop its pursuit of overpayment of Carer's Allowance.
So thank you to everyone who got involved with our campaigns this year. Sue, parent carer and former Contact trustee put it….
"Contact works alongside families and those in other charities to win legal battles, lobby politicians, and raise the profile of our community in national media. I'm confident that this amazing small team of staff will continue to punch above its weight and make things better for all of us".